Englebert Humperdinck – Sorry that username is unavailable.

My daughter and I were looking for something to watch on the Digital Theatre website, and she liked the look of the opera ‘Hansel and Gretel’. We were about to download it when I noticed that the composer was Englebert Humperdinck.

Growing up in the 1970s, middle-aged crooners with miracle gro chest hair and car-salesman of the year smiles were all the rage. Englebert Humperdinck was such an entertainer – some might even say heart-throb (Not I). Making special appearances on Saturday night Mogadon telly and comedy classics like ‘Morecombe and Wise’, Humperdinck and his ilk would churn out soppy ballads or up-beat catchy numbers like a Clacton Serge Gainsbourg minus the panache and vocal Macadam. Yet here in black and white, I find out he also penned an opera. It just can’t be!

englebert humperdinck

Englebert Humperdinck – he of the silky tonsils

After failing to sway my daughter from her choice, I sat through the entire opera – which was actually remarkably good – unable to fathom how the man who gave the world ‘Please, release me, let me go’ , ‘Spanish Eyes’ and ‘The Last Waltz” also happened to have had a secret life as a classical composer, penning an opera during the show intervals of the variety circuit of every pier on the English Riviera.

A little digging settled the matter. There are in fact two Englebert Humperdincks, and not by chance, either. Feeling certain that his birth name was not flamboyant enough to match his burgeoning talents, Arnold George Dorsey tried to come up with something exuding all the flair and glamour that would befit the velveteen crooner that he intended to become. Alas, he failed, so he just helped himself to the name of a dead German composer with a penchant for the classic tales of the Brothers Grimm. Why he chose that particular nomenclature, I have no idea. Apart from a shared love of a sharp moustache they don’t seem to have very much in common. No-one appears to have minded very much, probably because their audiences were dissimilar, but I’d be surprised if the same thing could happen today. For one thing the username would already have been taken, and Humperdinck139 just doesn’t have the same ring to it.


The original Englebert Humperdinck – German composer and fan of the musketeer ‘tache.

Funnily enough, old Arnold wasn’t the only one to recycle Humperdinck’s name. The main belt asteroid 9913 Humperdinck, discovered in 1977, was named after the composer as well.

Last but not least, this Humperdinck really is out of this world.

This Humperdinck really is out of this world. 

The original Humperdinck really could turn out a good tune, and ‘Hansel and Gretel’ was really spectacular. The music was engaging, the stage sets dramatic, with a wonderfully eerie forest scene, and a huge scary oven in the gingerbread house. The characters were larger than life and the witch was terrifying. It’s a much darker telling of the fairytale than one tends to encounter nowadays, but is closer to the Grimm’s version. However, my daughter really enjoyed it, especially as unlike the operas we’ve seen before, there’s a happy ending, and a comparatively low body count which made a nice change.

If you fancy a peek, you can find a preview of the performance and a download of it from this Digital Theatre link.

or you can see a production by the UCI on youtube here

Here are some pictures of the performance we saw:

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel